Older adults with asthma were at high risk of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study of 2,000 adults published online in Respiratory Medicine.

Specifically, half of individuals with asthma and a pre-pandemic history of depression experienced depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 1-in-7 older adults with asthma who had no history of depression experienced depression for the first time during the pandemic.

Additional findings included:

  • Respondents with asthma who experienced an increase in family conflict during the pandemic were also found to have a higher risk of depression by autumn 2020.
  • Experiencing a loss of income or an inability to access necessary supplies or food during the pandemic was associated with depression among those with asthma.

“The pandemic has had detrimental consequences for the mental health of older adults, particularly those who are also navigating chronic health conditions, such as asthma,” said co-author Grace Li, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria. “It is important for clinicians and healthcare professionals to be screening for depressive symptoms among their patients with asthma, even among those who have not showed signs of depression in the past.”

While there is a growing body of research indicating high rates of depression during the pandemic, few studies prior to this have focused specifically on the vulnerabilities among those with asthma. The researchers identified several factors that were associated with a higher risk of depression among this population, such as experiencing disruptions to healthcare access. These findings can help to inform critical points of intervention to support this population.

“The pandemic severely disrupted access to healthcare services, which may be especially detrimental for older adults with chronic illness, including asthma,” said senior author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson at University of Toronto’s FIFSW and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging. “This emphasizes the critical importance of ensuring healthcare remains accessible, even in the absence of in-person services.”

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